Should your heart rate be 200bpm during hockey training?

hockey training heart rateYour Off-Ice Hockey Training Heart Rate Should Be…

I had an email from an athlete the other day asking about heart rate during training.  I think part of it came from a discussion he had with one of his teammates who told him that his heart rate got over 200bpm during his workouts.

Here is the question…

I have never raise it above 175 yet on your workouts, but I feel great and I think I progress well and I never had any problems with training with the team at the beginning of the season…but you got to know for some of your athletes in studio, how high their heart rate is. Maybe my polar watch is broken :).

And my response…

Quick question – what is your max heart rate during a game?  Have you ever had your max heart rate actually tested (not calculated).  There can be a lot of genetic variation in heart rate, so you really cannot compare from one person to the next.

As you know, my primary concern is having you stop more pucks with fewer injuries, I don’t really care what your heart rate is 🙂  On those 200 yard shuttle runs and hill workouts you should be getting up there (90% of HRmax) but unless you know your true max heart rate it is hard to say.  You certainly should not be at 140bpm at the end of your hill sprints or shuttle runs.

For the ESD #2, your heart rate should not get too high since we are working speed and power, not stamina.

How is Max Heart Rate Determined?


Now let me expand on that a little bit.  I should not say that I ‘don’t care’ what your heart rate is, in athletes who know their heart rate max, I will use their heart rate to determine their recovery duration between intervals.  So we might not start the next interval until a player’s heart rate is below 120bpm.

Let’s also consider how a true heart rate max is determined.  The way I usually get it is from a player whose team does VO2max testing – this will give you a true max heart rate.

There are several different protocols for determining VO2max, but all of them basically involve a progressive increase in workload over time until the athlete reaches exhaustion.  A VO2max test that starts at the appropriate workload should be finished within 8-12 minutes.

I like it when people brag that they ‘stayed on the bike for 16-minutes’.  This really just indicates that they misjudged your base fitness level and started you at too easy a workload.

As an exercise physiologist, you do not want the athletes on the bike or treadmill for longer than about 12-minutes because at that stage local muscular endurance could become the limiting factor, rather than the oxygen consumption capacity of the athlete.

That is probably more than you want to know aboutVO2max testing, but the point is this – – getting to max heart rate takes 8-12 minutes of progressive overload.  Does that sound like anything a hockey goalie needs to do?

As I have said before – hockey goalies are not marathoners, they are repeat sprinters!

Is A Higher Heart Rate Better?

Do you think Usain Bolt’s heart rate is 200bpm at the end of a 100m sprint?  No way.  In fact I would bet that his heart rate is actually lower than many of his less efficient competitors.

So rather than comparing heart rates, I would rather have you compare your shuttle run times or speed during agility drills, that is what stops the puck, not your heart rate.

If you have a heart rate monitor, strap it on for your next game so you can see what your max heart rate is during the game and where you spend most of your time.  That will give you some useful data to help assess your intensity during training relative to a game.

Blame Your Genetics (Again)

Exhausted runner taking a breath

You can blame your genetics if your heart rate is uncharacteristically low or high.  There is a huge amount of variation across the population.  Some of

us are just set at a slightly faster or slower pace.  It does not mean we are more or less fit, just a natural variability.  This is why I haven’t used the 220-age formula for max heart rate in over 10-years.  According to one of my heroes, Mike Boyle, 70% of the population is plus or minus 10-12 beats using this formula.  Not very scientific is it?

So use your heart rate data to compare your response to exercise from session to session.  For example, if you do your 200 yard shuttle runs this week and your heart rate is getting to 167bpm, but then next week you do them again and your time is slower PLUS you are only getting your heart rate up to 146bpm, then you need to ask a few questions; Am I pushing myself as hard as I can?  Or if your time is slower, but your heart rate is up to 183bpm, then you might wonder if you are getting sick or over training?

Blame Your Age

Your max heart rate will also decrease as you age.  When I was a varsity cross country ski racer (arguably one of the most cardiovascular intense sports on the planet) at the University of Western Ontario, I would get my heart rate up to 203bpm during a race. It would only get there once or twice for about a total of 15 seconds over the entire race.

Now if my heart rate got up to 203, I would probably be heading to the nearest emergency department 🙂  I have no idea what my max heart rate is now but typically when I do my hill sprints (on a 45s hill, not the short one that I have been using lately) my heart rate will get up to 160-166bpm and that is a tough, tough workout.

Hope that helps you better understand how to use heart rate data.